I grew up in an East Coast colonial home. My mother took great pride in decorating both the dining room and the living room with traditional furniture and beautiful artwork, and she painted the walls a distinct shade of powder blue. We often had large family dinners, so the dining room had its fair share of activity. However, the living room – with its velvet sofa and chairs and ornate lamps – was only used on rare special occasions. As a child, this room intrigued me because of its "off limits" status.
Fast-forward to my adulthood: When my husband and I purchased our single-family home, I fell right in line with tradition. I decorated the living room with plush seating, painted the walls a subtle color and … guess what? We never used the room. I did what I saw in the past and not what made sense for the present. Today, what used to be our living room is now the piano room. Gone are the classic furniture pieces and in their place are a pair of modern chairs, a large desk, bookshelves and a piano. This room has become a hot spot for conversation and coffee, and my kids use it for homework and music lessons. We spend time here every day, and with its crimson wall color, the room now has the energy it once lacked.
As a designer, I'm finding this type of transformation is not uncommon. Today's lifestyles are becoming much less formal and much more hectic. As a result, designers are challenged with helping busy homeowners create multifunctional spaces that are casual and livable. This informal style is what's being called the "new traditional."
"Less formal is what everybody craves, but [it's a look] they may not be able to create themselves," says Jill Sharp Brinson, stylist and creative director of Jill Sharp Style. Sharp Brinson works with home furnishings company Ballard Designs and she's the creative force behind the beautifully styled images in their catalogs. Recently, the company called on her to design a makeover for a young family that was stumped on how to turn their unused living room into a welcoming space.
As part of the makeover, Sharp Brinson changed this traditional room into a chic salon. By incorporating separate, cozy seating groups along with durable fabrics and a lived-in aesthetic, she designed an inviting and comfortable room where the couple both entertains and hangs out to relax with their three young children.
"I think that a lot of labeled rooms in houses don't allow people flexibility. Living rooms and dining rooms are often perfect examples," explains Sharp Brinson. "We still reflect on spaces that we weren't encouraged to go in as children, and somehow, that bias sticks with us as we grow up and start to make homes of our own."